It's Christmas morning, and Alexis isn't surprised that there aren't any presents under the tree.
No, he hasn't been naughty this year.
Turning on the Christmas-tree lights, he flops onto the couch to wait for the rest of the family to get up. Alexis knows that once his morn wakes, the cooking will begin, and the house will soon fill with rich wonderful smells. Alexis loves Christmas. Grandma, Grandpa, and his aunts and uncles will all come for lunch, and they will talk and laugh all afternoon.
But as much as he likes Christmas, his mind races ahead to New Year's Eve.
Alexis lives on the island of Cyprus and is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Traditionally, New Year's Day is when Santa Claus, or Ayios Vassilis, brings presents. January first is also the Feast Day of Ayios Vassilis, or Saint Basil.
It's New Year's Eve!
At last, New Year's Eve arrives. Tonight, not only family but also close friends will gather to welcome the New Year and celebrate Saint Basil's feast day.
Since Alexis's mother will be cooking and cleaning all day, she sends him to his Nouna's house. Alexis's godmother is in charge of baking the Vasilopita, or St. Basil's Bread. This year Alexis is determined to find where she has hidden the lucky coin.
Each New Year's Eve Day, people hide a coin inside the sweet bread to honor acts of charity by Ayios Vassilis. He knew that many poor people needed money, but he didn't want to hurt their pride by offering them charity. He asked the ladies of the church to bake special bread with coins hidden inside to share during church services. Finding a coin meant luck, not charity.
Celebrating the Feast Day
"That's done," Nouna announces as she pops the bread into the oven. To Alexis's surprise, once again Nouna has hidden the coin without him seeing. All Alexis can do is wait until tonight and hope he has good luck.
The guests start arriving at nine o'clock. A fire roars in the fireplace, and Alexis passes out dried olive leaves. Taking turns, each guest makes a wish and tosses a leaf into the fire. If a leaf pops onto its other side, a wish will be granted.
In the kitchen, Alexis's mother fills long tables with egg soup, pasta and curry dishes, and grape leaves stuffed with meat. Alexis's attention is on the other table, with its sweet baklavas, ladyfingers, cream desserts, and the Vasilopita.
Happy New Year!
As the night wears on, family and friends play cards. Uncle Bampos also brings out his bouzouki, a guitar-like instrument, and everyone enjoys the traditional Greek folk dances.
At last, only ten seconds remain before the New Year. The lights flicker out, and screams echo in the darkness.
"Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one--Chronya Bolla!" everyone shouts. "Happy New Year!"
Someone bangs three times on the front door, and the door opens. Alexis's eyes strain against the darkness to catch a glimpse of Ayios Vassilis. The door slams shut, and the lights flash on. In the center of the room sit huge lumpy bags of brightly wrapped presents.
The children race forward, and everyone opens the gifts.
Cutting St. Basil's Bread
The wrapping is gathered and the area is clean, but the celebration is not over. Alexis and Nouna slip into the kitchen and bring back the Vasilopita. The oldest person, Papoo, Alexis's grandpa, has the honor of cutting the bread. The first wedge is for Ayios Vassilis, the second for Jesus, and the third for the host of the house. Then, Papoo divides the rest among the guests.
At the same time, everyone digs into the bread.
"I got it!" Alexis watches as his father holds up the coin. "I've got the luck this year!"
But the night's too spectacular for sadness. "Well done, Papa." Alexis kisses his father on both cheeks and then yawns. Barely able to keep his eyes open, Alexis scoops the last crumbs of the Vasilopita into his mouth and follows the guests to the door.
"Next year, you'll find the coin for sure," Nouna says as she heads into the night. Alexis can't help but hope she's right.
"Chronya Bolla, Nouna," he calls to her. "Chronya Bolla, everyone!"
Find a recipe for Vasilopita on HighlightsKids.com.
RELATED ARTICLE: Ayios Vassilis.
The Greek saint of the Orthodox Church, Ayios Vassilis, lived more than sixteen hundred years ago. He was born to a rich and religious family, attended the best schools, and became a successful lawyer and teacher. His love for God, however, was more important to him than success, so he donated everything he owned to the church and became a monk.
Ayios Vassilis worked to make people's lives better. He built churches, and hospitals and rest homes for the sick and hungry. He wrote and established rules for monks to live by. After his death at the age of fifty, he received the title Saint Basil the Great.